Thursday, November 08, 2007

From where I am back to where I began...

ASU students amid 21-day prayer marathon
Many students on campuses nationwide are speaking to God, or, at the very least, hope to.

A survey of more than 112,000 incoming college students in 2004, today's seniors, by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA revealed that a significant number of them describe themselves as spiritual.

• 80 percent have an interest in spirituality.
• 76 percent are searching for meaning/purpose in life.
• 80 percent attended a religious service in the past year.

Jennifer Lindholm is the project director for the study and knows that college students are often portrayed as being focused entirely on getting a job or having a good time. "Our data shows they are invested in spirituality," Lindholm said. "We were, to an extent, surprised." Lindholm's study further indicated that students have no intention of putting issues of faith or spirituality aside during their college years. "They have expectations that college will help develop their personal values and their spirituality," she said.

Reasons to pray
Emily Verrelli, a 20 year-old junior, had strong religious convictions when she first arrived on the ASU campus from her home in Long Island, N.Y., as a freshman. She prayed daily and attended services regularly. "I've always prayed, but more so now,"

Verrelli said while taking a break from prayer. Verrelli believes college students may turn to prayer because of their environment. They are away from home for the first time. Some are facing new pressures and new temptations. "Today, I am praying for our campus," she said. "For people who are lost or hurt."

The patch of lawn next to the Danforth Meditation Chapel has informal stations where poster board and pens allow students to write down what they are praying for, or who they are forgiving, or Bible verses that have resonance for them. There is no particular agenda. It is, instead, prayer for the sake of prayer.

The people who come are absolutely college students. They sometimes stop in midprayer and text-message or shout a hello to a passing friend. Some arrive on skateboards, others have tattoos and piercings. They know their public act of faith may result in people looking at them as different, but they are fine with that. "We pray for the big things, but sometimes, we pray for the small things," Slate Stout, 21, said one night during the 9-to-10 shift he had signed up for.

"It's just a bunch of people hungry for God."

This article is poignant for me because the stuff about students interest in spiritual things is right on. It explains where I’ve been from a few feet from where it all began for me. I shared my faith publicly for the first time in the fall of 1987 at the fountain at ASU, just feet from Danforth chapel. Everything changed for me after that. Now I’m in Boston working with some of the smartest, most skeptical and spiritually interested students in the world. And, I love it.

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